• Allergen search puff


    Search ImmunoCAP allergens and allergen components. Note that all information is in English.

Code: w204
Latin name: Helianthus annuus
Source material: Pollen
Family: Asteraceae (Compositae)
Common names: Sunflower, Common Sunflower

See also: Sunflower seed k84

Allergen Exposure

Sunflowers are found in the family Asteraceae, subfamily Asteroideae, and tribe Heliantheae.

The Common Sunflower is a plant from which we obtain Sunflower oil and seeds. There are two other species of Sunflower, which are not food-related: H. debilis (Sunflower), and H. decapetalus (Perennial Sunflower). H. debilis is a more slender plant, much branched, with rough, reddish stems.

The Sunflower is native to Central America but is now grown, mostly for its oilseeds, in many semi-arid regions of the world from Argentina to Canada and from central Africa into the Soviet Union. The leaves are usually used as fodder, and may be grown for this purpose alone, particularly where the season is too short and cool for maize.

The Common Sunflower is an annual, broadleaf plant with a tall hirsute stem, often un-branched, growing to 3m at a fast rate and bearing a single yellow, circular, large flower with a black centre. The leaves are hairy, oval-shaped, 10 to 30cm long and 5 to 20cm wide.

The flowering head is at the terminal end of the main stem, 10 to 40cm in diameter, rotating to face the sun (heliotropism), and sometimes drooping. Sunflower heads consist of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together by a receptacle base. The large petals around the edge of a head are actually individual ray flowers. Pollination and seed development begin at the periphery of the grain head and move toward the centre. Flowers are produced through summer and autumn and are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant may produce smaller heads on lateral branches. Insects pollinate the plant. The plant is self-fertilising.

The seeds ripen from September to October; a process usually completed about 30 days from the time the last flower is pollinated. The angular seeds are up to 6mm long, and are spirally arranged and densely packed in the flat, terminal head. The seeds are variable in size, and single-coloured or striped.

Sunflowers may escape from cultivation and occur on roadsides and wastelands.

Uses: For oil, coffee, flowers and edible seeds in various uses.

Allergen Exposure

Four allergens have been detected in Sunflower pollen, with molecular masses of 32, 24, 55, and 55 kDa. Cross-reactivity among the four allergens was very high, and each allergen recognised IgE in a high proportion of patients sensitised to Sunflower pollen. (1)

Thirteen Sunflower-allergic patients with allergen-specific IgE values > or = 0.7 kUA/l showed 2 IgE-binding fractions at 34.0 and 42.8 kD in 65% of sera and 3 IgE-binding fractions at pI 4.9, 9.6 and 10.2 in 54% of sera. A 34-kD major allergen was purified. (2)

The following allergens have been characterised:

Hel a 1. (2, 3, 4, 5)

Hel a 2, a profilin. (3,  5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)

Sunflower seed contains a 2S Albumin storage protein allergen, but this has not been detected in Sunflower pollen.

Potential Cross-Reactivity

An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus could be expected, as well as to a certain degree among members of the family Asteraceae (Compositae). (13)

Cross-reactivity has been demonstrated, by allergen-specific IgE and immunoblotting inhibition experiments, between Sunflower and other Asteraceae pollens: Mugwort, Marguerite, Dandelion, Golden Rod, and Short Ragweed. Mugwort pollen exhibited the greatest degree of cross-reactivity with Sunflower pollen, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, Short Ragweed showed less cross-reactivity. (14)

The major allergen Hel a 1 shows cross-reactivity with other aster members. (15)

Cross-reactivity with other non-Asteraceae plants can be expected, due to the presence of the panallergen profilin, Hel a 2. (6, 16, 17) Sunflower profilin is cross-reactive with profilins from Short ragweed, Mugwort, Olive, and Annual mercury. (15)

Sunflower pollen does not significantly cross-react with Sunflower seed. (18)

Clinical Experience

IgE mediated reactions

Sunflower pollen is a cause of asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis, and is an important occupational allergen in areas where Sunflower is grown. (2, 19, 20, 21, 22)

Sunflower pollen is a particularly significant aeroallergen in Korea. (23) In the Ukrainain area, Kievites pollinosis (seasonal fever) in most cases is caused by Ambrosia, Sunflower and Dandelion pollen. (22)

A study describes a 24-yr-old man who developed rhinitis and conjunctivitis over 5 years of occupational exposure to Sunflower pollens, and asthma which developed during the fifth year. All respiratory and ocular symptoms disappeared after he was removed from exposure, but he had a food-allergic reaction while he was eating honey containing 30% Sunflower pollens. (18)

“Concealed” Sunflower pollen is a special problem, as illustrated by a report of a 22-year-old woman who developed rhinitis, nasal congestion, tearing, and facial and generalised urticaria to Sunflower pollen concealed in a commercial product of shelled Sunflower seeds. (24)

Sunflower pollen has high allergenic potential, especially from close contact in occupational settings. In a study of 102 individuals working in a Sunflower processing plant, 23.5% were found to be sensitised to Sunflower pollen. (25)

Other reactions

In the case of 23 patients allergic to honey, including Sunflower honey, with symptoms ranging from itching in the oral mucosa to severe systemic symptoms to anaphylactic shock, proteins derived from secretions of pharyngeal and salivary glands of honeybee heads, along with pollen proteins, were found in the honey. The former were responsible for causing specific allergic reactions to honey. (26) Some allergic symptoms may be due to the actual Sunflower pollen present in the honey. (27, 28)

Although allergic symptoms and anaphylaxis can occur to Sunflower seeds (29) (see: Sunflower seed k84), occupational asthma may result from contact with Sunflower seed dust. This needs to be differentiated from Sunflower pollen, which contains different allergens. (30)

Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman,


  1. de la Hoz F, Melero JA, Gonzalez R, Carreira J. Isolation and partial characterization of allergens from Helianthus annuus (sunflower) pollen. Allergy 1994;49(10):848-54.
  2. Jiménez A, Moreno C, Martínez J, Martínez A, Bartolomé B, Guerra F, Palacios R. Sensitization to sunflower pollen: only an occupational allergy? Int Arch Allergy Immunol 1994;105(3):297-307.
  3. International Union of Immunological Societies Allergen Nomenclature: IUIS official list Accessed 08 December 2011.
  4. de la Hoz F, Melero JA, Gonzalez R, Carreira J. Isolation and partial characterization of allergens from Helianthus annuus (sunflower) pollen. Allergy 1994;49(10):848-54.
  5. Mohapatra SS, Lockey RF, Polo F. Weed pollen allergens. Clin Allergy Immunol 2008;21:127-39.
  6. Asturias JA, Arilla MC, Gomez-Bayon N, Martinez A, Martinez J, Palacios R. Recombinant DNA technology in allergology: cloning and expression of plant profilins. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr) 1997;25(3):127-34.
  7. Diaz-Perales A, Tabar AI, Sanchez-Monge R, Garcia BE, Gomez B, Barber D, Salcedo G. Characterization of asparagus allergens: A relevant role of lipid transfer proteins. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2002;110(5):790-6.
  8. Rodriguez-Perez R, Crespo JF, Rodriguez J, Salcedo G. Profilin is a relevant melon allergen susceptible to pepsin digestion in patients with oral allergy syndrome. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003;111(3):634-9.
  9. Martinez A, Asturias JA, Monteseirin J, Moreno V, Garcia-Cubillana A, Hernandez M, de la Calle A, Sanchez-Hernandez C, Perez-Formoso JL, Conde J. The allergenic relevance of profilin (Ole e 2) from Olea europaea pollen. Allergy 2002;57 Suppl 71:17-23.
  10. Asturias JA, Gomez-Bayon N, Arilla MC, Sanchez-Pulido L, Valencia A, Martinez A. Molecular and structural analysis of the panallergen profilin B cell epitopes defined by monoclonal antibodies. Int Immunol 2002;14(9):993-1001.
  11. Asturias JA, Arilla MC, Gomez-Bayon N, Aguirre M, Martinez A, Palacios R, Martinez J. Cloning and immunological characterization of the allergen Hel a 2 (profilin) from sunflower pollen. Mol Immunol 1998;35(8):469-78.
  12. Wopfner N, Gruber P, Wallner M, Briza P, Ebner C, Mari A, Richter K, Vogel L, Ferreira F.  Molecular and immunological characterization of novel weed pollen pan-allergens. Allergy 2008;63(7):872-81.
  13. Yman L. Botanical relations and immunological cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09.
  14. Fernandez C, Martin-Esteban M, Fiandor A, Pascual C, Lopez Serrano C, Martinez Alzamora F, Diaz Pena JM, Ojeda Casas JA. Analysis of cross-reactivity between sunflower pollen and other pollens of the Compositae family. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1993;92(5):660-7.
  15. Weber RW. Cross-reactivity of pollen allergens: recommendations for immunotherapy vaccines. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol 2005;5(6):563-9.
  16. Asturias JA, Arilla MC, Gomez-Bayon N, Martinez J, Martinez A, Palacios R. Cloning and high level expression of Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass) pollen profilin (Cyn d 12) in Escherichia coli: purification and characterization of the allergen. Clin Exp Allergy 1997;27(11):1307-13.
  17. Vallverdu A, Asturias JA, Arilla MC, Gomez-Bayon N, et al. Characterization of recombinant Mercurialis annua major allergen Mer a 1 (profilin). J Allergy Clin Immunol 1998;101(3):363-70.
  18. Bousquet J, Dhivert H, Clauzel AM, Hewitt B, Michel FB. Occupational allergy to sunflower pollen. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1985;75(1 Pt 1):70-4.
  19. Nandakishore T, Pasricha JS. Pattern of cross-sensitivity between 4 Compositae plants, Parthenium hysterophorus, Xanthium strumarium, Helianthus annuus and Chrysanthemum coronarium, in Indian patients. Contact Dermatitis 1994;30(3):162-7.
  20. Wodehouse RP. Hayfever Plants, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Hafner; 1971:149-154.
  21. Weber RW. Sunflower. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2006;97(1):A6.
  22. Syhaieva IA. Efficiency of specific immunotherapy in treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. [Ukrainian] Lik Sprava 2006;(1-2):51-3.
  23. Park HS, Jung KS, Jee SY, Hong SH, Kim HY, Nahm DH. Are there any links between Hop Japanese pollen and other weed pollens or food allergens on skin prick tests? Allergy Asthma Proc 2001;22(1):43-6.
  24. Rottem M, Waisel Y. Food allergy to concealed sunflower pollen. Allergy 1998;53(7):719-20.
  25. Atis S, Tutluoglu B, Sahin K, Yaman M, et al. Sensitization to sunflower pollen and lung functions in sunflower processing workers. Allergy 2002;57(1):35-9.
  26. Bauer L, Kohlich A, Hirschwehr R, Siemann U, Ebner H, Scheiner O, Kraft D, Ebner C. Food allergy to honey: pollen or bee products? Characterization of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1996;97(1 Pt 1):65-73.
  27. Florido-Lopez JF, Gonzalez-Delgado P, Saenz de San Pedro B, Perez-Miranda C, Arias de Saavedra JM, Marin-Pozo JF. Allergy to natural honeys and camomile tea. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 1995;108(2):170-4.
  28. Fuiano N, Incorvaia C, Riario-Sforza GG, Casino G. Anaphylaxis to honey in pollinosis to mugwort: a case report. Allerg Immunol (Paris) 2006;38(10):364-5.
  29. Kelly JD, Hefle SL. 2S methionine-rich protein (SSA) from sunflower seed is an IgE-binding protein. Allergy 2000;55(6):556-60.
  30. Vandenplas O, Vander Borght T, Delwiche JP. Occupational asthma caused by sunflower-seed dust. Allergy 1998;53(9):907-8.


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.